“While carrying out some repairs to the west facade of the royal apartments in 1830, a remarkably curious and interesting discovery was made. Almost in line with the crown room and about six feet from the pavement of the quadrangle, the wall was observed, when struck, ringing hollow, as if there was a cavity there. It was therefore opened from the outside, when a recess was discovered, measuring about two feet six inches on one foot, and containing the remains of a child, enclosed in an oak coffin, evidently of great antiquity and very dilapidated.
The remains were wrapped in a cloth, supposedly woolen, woven very thickly, so as to resemble leather, and inside were the rotten fragments of a richly embroidered silk covering, with two initials worked on it, one of them distinctly marked ‘I’. This interesting find was reported at the time to Major General Thackery RE, on whose orders they were again brought back to their strange burial place, where they still are. It was futile now to attempt a solution to this mysterious discovery, although it may provide a novelist with the material on which to found an exciting romance.
When Sir Daniel Wilson’s Memorials of Edinburgh was published in a new edition in 1891, the section on the discovery of the coffin was kept unchanged, including the part on the coffin and the bones reburied in the wall, which is certainly wrong since there is contemporary evidence that many bones, as well as fragments of wood and fabric, were taken away as souvenirs, some of them ending up in the repository of the Society of Antiquaries, from where they have since been lost or thrown away.
Fast-forwarding 40 years, with no meaningful attention being paid to the castle mystery, until the London Morning Post told the story in 1888, adding new inaccuracies as they went along.
Oddly, reporters were unable to pick the right Edinburgh Royal Palace when there were only two to choose from, placing the mystery in the Palace of Holyroodhouse and not the Castle. When the Scotsman corrected this error, an interesting correspondence happened to light. In particular, a certain PH M’Kerlie wrote that the story was not an invention of the castle tour guides, but based on solid facts. The oak coffin with the remains of a child had been found in the front wall, Royal Apartments Square, Edinburgh Castle, almost in line with the Crown Room, about five or six feet above the ground , in the apartment occupied by the gentleman … ‘
Several officers and soldiers of the garrison had taken care of some bones and fragments of the coffin, as well as the so-called silk fabric, on which had been embroidered two letters, including an “I” or a “J”.
Being a boy at the time, M’Kerlie received some of the bones for his collection of curiosities. The inevitable skeptic wrote to the Scotsman, saying that M’Kerlie was a gullible fool since he believed in history, which it is understood that the castle guides sometimes venture to reproach the gullible tourist that the remains found in the mysterious chamber in the wall were those of the real James VI. These lead to the riddle, who was the other man who actually occupied the throne?
M’Kerlie, however, was adamant that the story was nothing but a fact, although the bones he obtained for his private museum were long gone.
In 1907, after a London newspaper briefly discussed the castle mystery, several Notes & Queries correspondents debated the veracity of the story, some believing that Mary, Queen of Scots, had given birth to a dead child. born, whose remains had been placed in coffin. and locked in the wall, to be replaced in the manger by the offspring of a soldier’s wife. One skeptic rightly concluded that there was nothing to link the discovery of the remains with Mary Queen of Scots or with her grandson and speculated that the bones were from an animal locked in the wall to keep them away. evil spirits.
In 1909, antiquarian Walter B Woodgate reviewed the old story of the coffin in the wall and swallowed it with hook, line and sinker. As he thought that James VI was very similar to the Count de Mar, he suggested that the child of the Countess de Mar had been substituted for the stillborn little prince.
In 1918, the story was carefully studied by Dowager Lady Forbes. She felt that the murder of Rizzio in Holyrood, before the eyes of the pregnant Mary Queen of Scots, must surely have caused a terrible “maternal impression”, weakening the little prince until he became incapable of extra life. -uterine.
She surmised that Lady Reres, a middle-aged lady of the court who appears to have been some sort of royal nurse, gave birth around the same time as Mary, and that a group of conspirators disposed of the body of the little stillborn prince, and put the young Rères in the royal crib in his place, unbeknownst to Marie.
Commenting on Madame’s writings, Professor R K Hannay pointed out that there was nothing to suggest that Reres was pregnant at the time, and that there is evidence that she was a fairly unhealthy woman. And if the conspirators wanted the little dead prince to disappear for good, then why bother to embroider ‘JR’ (for Jacobus Rex) on his silk shroud?
Tomorrow: Animal bones, human remains or holy relic
This is an edited excerpt from the book by Jan Bondeson Phillimore’s Edinburgh, published by Amberley Publishing